Second Half Salvation in Seattle
It's been decades since the Bears have been able to put up a W after a game at Qwest Field: since 1976 to be exact. Though early on it looked as though they might continue that streak, a defensive rally in the second half, a banged up Seahawks starting lineup, and a quarterback in Jay Cutler, who is cocky enough, or maybe competitive enough, to fight under fire, brought the Bears a 25-19 win.
This may be the game that endears Cutler to a quarterback-shy Chicago. After a rocky, pick-filled season opener at Lambeau, it would take more than last week's win against Pittsburgh to set Bears fans at ease. The masterfully executed final drive of the game proves to Chicago fans that Cutler can take his lumps and perform in a pinch. He may get lippy with refs, and may have an arrogant reputation, but what comes with that competitive bravado is the pride to pull out a win. Cutler has the confidence to pull off the two-point conversion, and guts enough to run the ball and chew up the clock to avoid scoring too early at the end of a game. Chicago's not used to that assuredness. Last year, the Bears had to treat completed passes as a happy accident. The last five minutes of Sunday's game gave Chicago fans one thing they haven't had in a quarterback in over 20 years: trust.
The other great things to come out of this game:
• Devin Hester grabbed passes out of the air and actually hung on. Hester's been a question mark at wide receiver for going on two years. Could he learn routes? Could he lose the alligator arms on catches? Negative on both fronts, last year. But his catches Sunday seem to point to a Hester who is finally hitting his stride as a wide out. He had three miraculous catches, jumping up in midair, hanging on in precarious coverage, palming another with a vice grip for a first down, and finally using his speed to run one in for a game-winning, 36-yard touchdown. We can all admit we were skeptical, but Hester might be proving us wrong.
• Greg Olsen finally showed his fabled chemistry with Cutler. The buzz at training camp was how close Cutler and Olsen have been on and off the field, but that connection didn't really play out in the first two games. During Sunday's game, Olsen had five receptions for 44 yards, one of them for a touchdown. After a string of drops, Olsen may be hitting his stride as the Cutler go-to guy the coaches have all told us he'd be.
• The "other" AP. We don't have the Purple Diesel Adrian Peterson, but we do have #29, who is consistently and subtly a reliable relief for the overworked Matt Forte at running back. Peterson has managed to come through on the rush for the last two weeks, doubling Forte's average on his two runs this game. He made a great stop on special teams, too. It might have looked bad for Forte when Kevin Jones got hurt in the preseason, but Peterson has managed to impress when the team needs him to plow ahead. and I'm starting my one-woman campaign to see him get his cred.
• The defense could not stop Julius Jones. I should note that they vastly improved in the second half. But for that first half, it took five or six Bears to bring him to the ground. He ran for 98 yards on 19 attempts. The problem continues to be a lack of wrapping up guys on tackles. When Chicago does meet the purple AP, there's going to have to be a lot of wrapping up, or it's gonna be Julius Jones all over again.
• Penalties. Again, more of a first half problem, but back-to-back false starts and a low-block penalty by Cutler destroyed some great offensive movement downfield early in the first quarter.
• Watching rookie Johnny Knox return kicks with mind-blowing speed, reminiscent of Hester two years ago. He's getting more comfortable every game and parlaying that speed into touchdown receptions, including a seven-yard TD in Sunday's game. He missed one that ended in a turnover, but the 185 pounder softened the blow by wrapping up and taking down 240-pound David Hawthorne almost immediately after the takeaway.
• My top highlight: watching 310-pound defensive tackle Anthony Adams getting serious vertical on a jump that batted down a Wallace pass intended for T.J Houshmandzadeh. I couldn't have been happier to see that replayed in slow-motion. The self-described "squatty-body" on the team always makes the case for big boys as an asset in Lovie Smith's generally leaner, meaner defense.